While technically classified as hip-hop due to his funk laced beats and heavy sampling, RJD2 (or Ramble John Krohn) has always had a very soulful sound to his work. Both of these qualities were largely downplayed, however, on his last full length, The Third Hand. Dominating his signature sound with a near ambient indie pop production left his fans somewhat alienated, while the remaining traces of his hip-hop orientation put off his intended audience. The good but ultimately adequate songwriting wasn't enough to carry everything, and it ended up being extremely unpopular. Three years later, RJD2 returns with The Colossus, which brings some of his early turntablism and instrumental hip-hop back into the mix, as well as an array of guest vocalists. It still sounds like Krohn doesn't want to let go of his new found indie experimentation, but while The Colossus isn't likely to pacify fans of his older material, the fact that he's playing a bit more to his strengths definitely pays off.
The large amount of live instrumentation from 2007's The Third Hand is still present, though scaled back a bit in favor of light sampling, which is scattered throughout but used largely in the instrumental tracks. The instrumentation style has broadened as well, which results in a very eclectic yet cohesive album; The opening Let There Be Horns and Salud 2 (an obvious nod to his debut) are more turntable driven, but don't negatively rub up against tracks like The Glow's irrestistable neo-soul or the upbeat Chicago-esque closer Walk with Me.
The guest spots help out a lot as well; Kenna's vocals shine on Games You Can Win, a perfect fit for the smooth, progressing beat. Phonte Coleman sounds great on The Shining Path as well, and the combined effort sounds like a more spacey, psychedelic Gnarls Barkley song. It's A Son's Cycle that really steals the show though; Krohn stitches together a cleverly progressing beat and loads it with hooks, and while The Catalyst, Illogic, and NP each have great raps to contribute, the beat's blend of instrumentation and sampling is done well enough to detract attention from them. The instrumentals have a great deal of diversity as well; Tin Flower recycles a folkish flute loop while tastefully adding more harmonies over until finishing abruptly, and the basic A Spaceship for Now is dominated with intensifying synths and drums, with an eerie keyboard underlying them.
The Colossus doesn't always work as well as it should, however; there is a bit of fumbling with lackluster melodies. Giant Squid's flat out doesn't work, and too much is added on, resulting in an overwhelming production with no direction. The other notable example is The Stranger, where the production is very tastefully done, but there is simply nothing to work with, and the result is a frustrating listen that, again, doesn't go anywhere.
RJD2's latest sees him continuing on in the vein of his last album, but with more balance and a stronger sense of confidence. One of the things that made The Third Hand awkward in places was the fact that he didn't seem sure how thick to lay on which aspect of the hybrid he was going for, but here most of the proverbial wrinkles feel ironed out. The Colossus may not be as grandoise as was intended, but it does show an artist gaining momentum in a new direction, comfortably leaving an old sound behind.